One of the paradoxes of sports journalism is that it’s often at its most entertaining when you are wrong.
Almost everyone expected Team Liquid to take a pounding at the hands of defending world champions Invictus Gaming earlier today.
Even after they upset G2 in their final group stage game, I said that TL would “cop a pasting” from either SKT or IG.
If esports really is at its best when people like me are wrong, Liquid-IG must have been peak entertainment, because I and almost everyone else was very wrong.
At least I wasn’t alone. On the analyst’s desk PapaSmithy gave Liquid a game win, but that was generous compared to most of the rest of the world, who expected a 3-0.
And why wouldn’t we? IG are not just reigning world champions – they dropped just one game in the group stage, and that was against an SK Telecom with Faker in vintage form.
Apart from that, IG had won not just every game but every kind of game. They won one-sided stomps, they won scrappy brawls and they won from behind numerous times.
Contrast that with Team Liquid, who were in danger of group stage elimination, and it’s easy to see why the semi-final was pencilled in as an easy Chinese win.
All of that is to say nothing of history. China has been the dominant region in League of Legends for a while now, whereas North America has been on life support in the shape of Cloud 9.
It’s not just that nobody expected Team Liquid to do well – nobody expects North America to do well.
I won’t keep harping on the unlikeliness of this success. You get the point. But it’s important to highlight how monumental this victory is for the team and for the entire region.
Most importantly, Team Liquid earnt this win the hard way. They didn’t pull off some kind of cheesy strategy for a one-off game.
They took three games from the best team in the world playing standard champions in a standard fashion.
Apart from the first professional Lux since 2012, it was all by the book, and Liquid read between the lines better than IG.
Particularly impressive was Xmithie. I praised him in my previous column for turning around some of the criticism he had received early in the tournament. His Skarner in game four was a linchpin, and the 6-0-10 stat line is testament to his play.
IG looked like they’d never played against the champion at times, with Jackeylove notably getting caught in an awful position without a QSS. Ning on Rek’Sai had no answer. He struggled to get into the game early on and faded into irrelevancy in no time.
I don’t want to do a player-by-player rundown of who did what, but it would be remiss of me not to give props to CoreJJ.
The ex-world champion lived up to his pedigree, flexing on strong engage champions like Alistar and Galio. The former was especially impressive, making play after play in game two.
So for Liquid, this might have been the performance of a lifetime. I say ‘might have been’ because I’ve counted them out one too many times now.
I’m still sure that G2 or SKT can and should emerge victorious on Sunday, but I’m no longer willing to say it in the same definitive, dismissive terms as I used to describe the semi-final in my previous column.
Invictus make the comparatively short trip back to China wondering what might have been.
Liquid deserve praise, and I’m wary of people construing this next bit as me diminishing what the American team achieved, but IG were poor. Liquid beat what was put in front of them, but what IG put in front of them was far from their best.
I mentioned Ning’s anaemic Rek’Sai in game four, but his Lee Sin in the first two games was hardly better. Even simple mistakes, like kicking Alistar into his team instead of Kai’Sa, kept creeping in.
Ironically, after all the flack Xmithie has copped for only being able to play tanks, Ning’s best performance was on Sejuani in Game 3, but really that game was more about Rookie refusing to lose 3-0.
Not that it was all Ning’s fault of course. TheShy has been shockingly quiet at MSI and he really only had one standout performance in the semi-final. Even in the solitary win, his Gnar was almost irrelevant.
Rookie too had a disappointing showing in the three losses. With his LeBlanc banned in game four, his Zoe was counter-picked and crushed by Jensen’s Lux with a lot of help from Xmithie.
Jackeylove was the only consistent performer for IG, but League of Legends is a team game and Liquid was by far the better team on the day.